3 years of blogging: This blog has completed 3 years of existence yesterday. First post was published on 22 May 2006 and 370 posts have gone live so far. Thanks to each one of you for the support and encouragement.
Earlier this month, me and 4 others went on a 3 day trip to Ooty, Coonoor and Kotagiri. Day 1 was lost in travel, Day 2 was ok ok and Day 3 was full paisa vasool. This trip made me realize the need for better planning. This post is about Day 1. Day 2 and 3 will be covered in a subsequent post.
Highlights of Day 1: Steep uphill drive at kallatti Ghats, Traffic Jam at Coonoor-Mettupalyam Road, night spent in car/bus stand
This 3 day trip to Ooty and nearby areas was conceptualized long back. But in between a 11 day Himalayan trek option (SAR PASS Trek organized by YHAI, Abhijit Bhat, who went for this trek has uploaded his photos here) came my way, which I happily grabbed, ditching the Ooty plan. But my registration for the trek couldn’t get confirmed in time from YHAI and I decided to drop out (next year, may be). This made me free again for the 3 day long weekend and Ooty plan was revived and executed.
For three reasons, we opted to take tents and sleeping bags for rent and camp somewhere instead of staying in hotels (Reasons were: getting accommodation was tough due to peak tourist season clubbed with 3 day weekend, wanted to keep costs as low as possible, wanted to give fellow travelers an experience of camping)
We rented a tent+5 sleeping bags from Mars Adventures Bangalore. [Same co who’d organized Ramanagaram rock climbing] Rental was Rs 1800 for 3 days for these items. They had not kept the pegs for tents and zip of a sleeping bag was not working-which we didn’t check as we were in a hurry. Be careful on these aspect if you’re renting from them.
I rented a Ford Fiesta from Car Club for this trip (last time I’d booked >Ford Fiesta from Hertz for >Wayanad trip I got a free upgrade to Scorpio-no such wonders happened this time). This 1.4 Duratorque EXI had about 50000kms on the odo. I had to arrive from Chennai and collect delivery of the car.Driver hadn’t got the vehicle documents along and hence had to drive to Car Club Garage. Anyway we’d to wait till 6.30AM for collecting the tent.
Picked up friends who were joining me in the trip. Then we headed to Kanteerava indoor stadium near Corporation to collect tents. Soon we were on our way to Ooty. Original idea was to stop at Kamat Lokaruchi for breakfast, but we spotted a hotel Kadu Mane and decided to check it out. It was too crowded, so we decided to take parcel and proceed. We ate it on the way sometime later.
To reach Ooty there exists a shorter route via Kanakapura, Chamarajanagar-Mettupalyam. But as we learnt that road to be in bad condition, we opted for the tried and tested Bengaluru-Mysuru-Ooty route. We could see an unusually high number of cars and tourist vehicles-understandably headed towards Mysore-lots of people heading out to make the most of 3 day weekend, visiting Mysore, Ooty, Coorg, Wayanad etc.
First major stop was near Nanjanagudu, at an abandoned railway + road bridge over Kabini river with few abandoned compartments. 2 bogies of Heritage chariot were also stood there. Fellow traveler Raveesh took the trouble of noting down details of this bride from a Railway Department board nearby-I’m just sourcing the same from his blog - "It was built by Dalvoy Devraj in 1735 with brick, sand and stone adopting ancient Gothic style. It was strong and wide enough to carry road traffic as well as metre guage trains, which started running in 1889. This ancient bridge today stands as an engineering marvel, which bears testimony to the skills of those who built it. This bridge now over 270 years old and could very well be the oldest railway bridge in the world because the first railways was built only after 1825 and there were no other known cases of ancient road bridges having been used to carry railway traffic".
Next stop was somewhere inside Bandipura reserve forest. We only spotted some deers-no other wild animals. Soon we entered TamilNadu state and took a turn to go to Hotel TamilNadu. What we saw there was that all tables were occupied, but no table had any dish on it. Apparently they’d not started serving lunch yet and it would take lots of time. The place had lots of gulmohar trees and a water stream flowing nearby. We took some rest there and moved on, without lunch. Few other hotels/resorts we could locate en route also had no food, as it was late or too many customers came that day- bananas and other packed foods kept us energized till the evening.
At Theppakkadu junction we had two options-take the shortcut via Kalhatti ghat or take the regular route via Gudalur. We took the former. Narrow road, 36 hairpin turns and a steep uphill drive, made it a challenging. I thought Fiesta is a sporty car, but the one I rented 1.4 Duratorque EXi) hardly had any pull in second gear while climbing Kalhatti ghat.(Car was fully loaded with 5 people, the engine wasn’t obviously tuned for sporty climbs and incline was reasonably steep-all these could be the reasons) Driving most of the distance in first gear, burning the clutch, wasn’t a pleasure, but I enjoyed it. As far as I noticed, Only Innovas zipped uphill with ease, while many other cars, Indicas, Indigos, Marutis and even a Sumo had tough time. In fact one Indigo driver asked us if we had an extra driver who can drive his car till top. I also couldn’t prevent the engine from stalling several times-tells me I still need to improve a lot in driving. We could see lots of cars parked with their bonnet open, to help the engine cool down. When we stopped for a cup of masala tea, I also opened the bonnet and allowed the fiesta to breathe easy for a while. Ideally one should have taken Gudalur route to reach Ooty and Kalhatti ghat route to return from there, but that way, those who enjoy driving will miss the fun.
It also started raining. We stopped at several places for views and photos and reached Ooty by evening. Our original idea was to go to Coonoor, locate an ideal place to camp, then drive around a bit, come back and camp. It was 5PM and some time was left we thought we’ll cover one place in Ooty and went to the main lake. It was too crowded, we were told it will take min 1 hour for our turn (for boating) to come and it closes by 6.30PM. Not so keen to wait, we moved on, heading towards Coonoor losing about 45 minutes in the process. Though just 17 kms from Ooty, heavy traffic ensured that it was dark before we could reach Coonoor. As per our plan we were to locate a camping place somewhere around Coonoor but it became impossible in the dark, given that we were visiting the place for the first time. To find one there has to be some light and we needed to go somewhere away from the city but we weren’t sure where to go. Some better planning or a local help or a GPS device could have helped, but we had none. We had dinner in some decent hotel on the main road, opposite Coonoor Railway station. We checked at hotels and lodges, only to learn that all rooms are full (as suspected).
So now the options were limited: Spend the night in the car, or venture out in the dark to find a camping place. Suddenly the picture I’d seen in Bangalore City and Chennai Central railway stations came to my mind-Railway stations operate 24x7 and passengers often the night in railway station campus, either waiting for their train or for not being able to afford a hotel. On our agenda was to take the Mettupalyam-Udagamandalam heritage train. So I thought we can drive to Mettupalyam, spend the night in railway station campus, take the train next morning (7.45AM) and come back. This decision proved to be a mistake-as we headed towards Mettupalyam, we got stuck in massive traffic jam. Apparently this Coonoor-Mettupalyam highway has several bottlenecks-narrow bridges or turns and whenever a big vehicle tries to negotiate it, it creates a traffic jam, halting traffic several kms on both sides. On several occasions we switched off the engine and waited for 20-30 minutes before getting to move few more meters. Thus the 28 kms journey took several hours and we reached Mettupalyam by midnight. With some local help we located the railway station, only to find its gates locked. I thought Mettuplayam is a bigger city/station than Conoor, but maybe I was wrong. All hotels in Mettupalyam were also full. In one resort the person in charge offered us a small unfurnished hall for Rs 3000. He later brought down the price for Rs 2000, but we weren’t keen on spending so much for just a few hours of rest.
We spent few hours in the car, but it was too hot (Unlike Ooty/Conoor, Mettupalyam is not a hill station) with a topping of mosquito bites. Wasn’t a good idea to run AC on battery and risk a dry battery and keeping the engine running would attract undue attention - safety factors in an unknown town had to be factored. Everyone preferred to spend night in the car than camp at some unknown/unsafe place. Other than boarding the train we didn’t have any other plans for Mettupalyam on our agenda. An impromptu decision was made to drive back to Coonoor-which was a hill station far cooler and we had to visit several places around Coonoor. Somewhere around 2.30-3AM in the morning I drove back to Coonoor. This time roads were deserted and it took just about 45 minutes.
After reaching Coonoor, took some rest, drove around a bit and while passing through Coonoor bus stand, saw lots of people sleeping there. So parked the car in a bay meant for buses. Others preferred to sleep in the car itself, but I wanted to spread my legs, so came out, took out the sleeping bag and slept at the cleanest place I could find around, in the Great Coonoor Bus Terminal.
Poor planning leading to discomfort, bad luck and too much of travel marked day 1 of the trip. But it was one great experience and lessons learnt are many. I felt bad for making all of them sleep in the car and spend the night without proper rest/comfort/amenities but the guys were accommodative and supportive enough not to complain.